University of Houston launches new AI lab geared toward oilfield tech

UH's Sugar Land campus has a new innovation hub focused on machine learning in the energy industry. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston at Sugar Land is now home to an innovative lab that will work to find new ways to use artificial intelligence in the oilfield.

Dubbed the Artificial Intelligence Industry Incubator and Digital Oilfield Lab at the University of Houston, the facility will allow faculty, students, and energy professionals to develop technologies and solutions to increase efficiency and boost oil field safety through machine learning, according to a release from UH.

The lab opened in late 2020 and is part of the College of Technology's Advanced Technology and Innovation Laboratory. It represents a partnership with the UH College of Technology and the AI Innovation Consortium based in Louisville, Kentucky.

The consortium also includes Pennsylvania State University, the University of Louisville, Louisiana State University, and a number of corporations.

According to the release from UH, several companies have already agreed to work with the lab on projects that will find ways to use AI for predictive analytics, visual inspection, and health and safety measures.

"This incubator program emphasizes the need to build projects grounded in clear business value, with technologically rich and hands-on initiatives, and an engaging industry/academia partnership," Konrad Konarski, chair and director of operations at AIIC, says in a statement. "This allows us to focus on the most relevant AI technologies that have immediate impact and value to the oil and gas industry."

Too, the lab aims to provide students with valuable experiences that they can likely leverage into a job upon graduation.

"The laboratory and incubator will allow our students to contribute to the various applied research and proof of concept work currently underway and in the future," David Crawley, professor of practice in the College of Technology, says in a statement. "This includes working with the AIIC's commercial partners to create opportunities to move their incubator experience and advanced academic background into jobs at participating operations."

The university has also made headway in recent months using machine learning to better the search for "super hard" materials, such as diamonds. It also launched a new drug discovery institute in November.

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Building Houston

 
 

SurgWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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